WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Monday it will send over 5,200 troops to help secure the border with Mexico, a far larger-than-expected deployment as President Donald Trump hardens his stance on immigration ahead of November 6 mid-term elections.
The deployment will create an active-duty force comparable in size to the US military contingent in Iraq, as Mr Trump’s administration draws attention to a caravan of migrants that is trekking through Mexico toward the United States.
General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the head of US Northern Command, said 800 US troops were already en route to the Texas border and more were headed to the borders in California and Arizona.
“The president has made it clear that border security is national security,” Mr O’Shaughnessy said, as he detailed a much larger deployment that the 800 to 1,000 troops predicted by US officials last week.
Mr O’Shaughnessy said some soldiers would be armed although it was unclear who, beyond US military police, might need those weapons. US officials have stressed that the troops would not police the border and instead carry out support roles like building tents and barricades, and flying US customs personnel to locations along the border.
Mr Trump said the United States would build “tent cities” to house migrants seeking asylum, rather than releasing them while they await court decisions.
Although Mr Trump’s supporters in Congress praised the deployment of troops, the American Civil Liberties Union derided it as a political stunt.
“President Trump has chosen just before midterm elections to force the military into furthering his anti-immigrant agenda of fear and division,” said Shaw Drake, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union Border Rights Center in El Paso, Texas.
Kevin McAleenan, the US commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said a group of approximately 3,500 immigrants were traveling through southern Mexico with the intent of reaching the US border. A second caravan of about 3,000 people were at the Guatemala-Mexico border, Mr McAleenan said.
There are already 2,100 US National Guard forces at the border, sent after a previous Mr Trump request in April. The latest deployment would be in addition to those forces.